What would happen if some Russians took a Dr. Seuss story and turned it into a paint-on-glass animated short? The results would be Welcome (1986), a gorgeous ten-minute cartoon directed by Alexei Karayev. It is based on Dr. Seuss’s 1948 book Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. The film’s art director was a young Aleksandr Petrov, who today is the most famous proponent of the paint-on-glass animation technique with films like The Old Man and the Sea (1999). The three-dimensional rendering of the painted figures in Welcome is absolutely stunning; they manage to build on Seuss’s original line drawings while retaining the warmth and appeal of his characters, which is quite an accomplishment considering how easy it is to make Seuss’s characters cold and unappealing.
One more note: the film is in Russian, but the YouTube version below is translated into English. The translation was done by Brew reader ESN, who also sent me the link to this film. A big thank you for translating this and allowing all of us to enjoy the film.
Yesterday’s New York Times featured an interview with John Lasseter and some interesting bits can be gleaned from the article. One thing I found quite telling is the fact that 60% of Disney’s upcoming Meet the Robinsons has been scrapped and redone in the past year. Most animated features are reworked heavily nowadays, but the extent to which this film has been revamped is a clear sign of how poorly managed the old Disney Feature Animation was; judging from the way Disney has barely been promoting the film, you get the feeling that they would have scrapped the entire film had it not already been so deep into production.
Another piece of info is that WDFA is planning to move out of their semi-iconic (and architecturally dysfunctional) hat building and into brand-new headquarters in Glendale. At first, I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a huge and unnecessary expenditure to build another studio, even if the current studio does leave a lot to be desired.” But after giving it more thought, I realized what Lasseter and Ed Catmull were doing. What’s notable is not that they’re building a better animation studio, but that they’re moving the whole animation operation off the Burbank lot, far away from the studio’s acrid corporate culture, and creating a separate campus that will hopefully be dominated by passionate artists and storytellers. Looking at it from that perspective, it’s a daring and excellent business decision.
While Meet the Robinsons has a better-than-average chance of falling flat on its face at the box office, and Lasseter himself has raised eyebrows in recent months with some of his decisions, such as the dismissal of American Dog‘s Chris Sanders, in general, I feel Lasseter is making smart decisions. I still have high hopes that Disney Feature Animation can be turned around under his stewardship.
Hans Bacher (the art director of Disney’s Mulan) reports on his blog that his new book, Dreamworlds, has just been released in Japan. The book offers a primer on animation production design, and judging from the preview pages Bacher posted some months back, it should be a how-to book well worth owning. Right now, the book is available only in Japanese (Amazon Japan link here), but Hans says an English version is also in the works and should be released later this year.
I’ll probably regret posting this in a few hours but the animation at Technicolon.com is some of the most trippy (innovative?, annoying?) CG I’ve seen in a while. Take heed of the warning at the front of the site: “PLEASE DO NOT WATCH THESE CARTOONS IF YOU SUFFER FROM PHOTOSENSITIVE EPILEPSY (PSE).”
[Note: The manifesto has been removed at the request of the filmmaker. He says it wasn't really intended to ever be put up on the site, so just enjoy the cartoons for what they are.]
Anybody who’s studied animation in recent years is doubtless familiar with Walt Stanchfield’s drawing handouts. Stanchfield (1919-2000), an animator at Disney, taught drawing at the studio for many years and his class notes have been passed around by everybody, first as photocopies and now online (Animation Meat has a nice collection of the notes).
Leo Brodie had the ambitious idea of taking Walt’s notes and arranging them in a more cohesive order to create a book as Stanchfield might have written it. Brodie calls the book Gesture Drawing for Animation and has made it available as a series of downloadable PDF files. Brodie explains on his website how his version differs from the original handouts:
As I was reading the notes and trying to absorb as much as I could, I thought I might understand them better if it were all laid out in sequence, with basic topics followed by more complex ideas. I wanted to see his ideas grouped by subject so I could compare the ideas. In other words, I wanted the topics to be arranged like a normal book. So I’ve re-arranged bits and pieces from the handouts into cohesive chapters, while taking the liberty to eliminate redundancy and make minor edits just as book editor would.
Whether you prefer the raw notes or the book version, Stanchfield’s notes are an excellent source of knowledge, and considering they’re free, there’s no excuse not to take advantage of them.
After Robert “Bobe” Cannon (the genius director of Gerald McBoing Boing) left UPA around 1958, he began to do a lot of commercial freelance. Among the places he worked was Playhouse Pictures, where he directed and animated this :20 second spot for the US Navy featuring a somewhat Thurber-esque cat and dog talking about their owner’s decision to join the Navy.
Despite the bare-bones simplicity of the piece (or perhaps because of it), it’s highly effective and does a great job of communicating the message. The commercial didn’t have much ad agency involvement as far as I can tell. The circular script where the characters repeat one another’s words was written in-house by Chris Jenkyns, who was the primary writer/storyboard artist at Playhouse.
The Presets’ “Girl and the Sea” is an incredibly lovely mixed-media music video directed by Lee Lennox. It’s not a new videoÃ¢â‚¬”it was released in 2005Ã¢â‚¬”but now, a hi-res AVI has appeared online over here. The video, which is obviously an homage to Russian master Yuri Norstein, deserves to be seen in this higher quality to be fully appreciated. Lee Lennox is represented by Draw Pictures in the UK (click on “Promo Directors” on the site to see more of his work).
This hilarious MP3 clip from the Howard Stern Show features an excerpt from a commercial recording session by William Shatner. Listen to the interaction between Shatner and the clueless producer. The relevance of it to animation should be clear to anybody who’s ever worked in the industry; I never thought I’d say this but we definitely need more Shatner-type artists in the animation biz.
The first two people to correctly post the answer in the comments below will win the book. Here’s the question:
One of the artists in Three Trees Make a Forest, Ronnie del Carmen, has had one of his drawings appear in almost every issue of Animation Magazine published in the last decade. What company/organization/product is his drawing advertising?
The Contest Is Now Closed! The winners are Chad Townsend and Peter Avanzino. Thanks to all who participated. And be sure to read Ronnie’s great story about how the ad came to be at the bottom of the comments section.
The 5th Tehran International Animation Festival (English website) kicked off yesterday in Iran and continues through March 1. It’s a festival that I doubt many Brew readers will be attending anytime soon. Still I think it’s worth pointing out for a couple reasons. The first reason being that their website offers a good sense of the animation being produced in Iran today. Just check out the national competition page to see stills from a wide variety of contemporary Iranian shorts and commercial projects. The international competition offers more standard festival fare like Run Wrake’s Rabbit, Gaelle Denis’s City Paradise, Andreas Hykade’s The Runt, and Georges Schwizgebel’s Jeu, as well as features like Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Christiane Cegavske’s Blood Tea and Red String.
The most interesting feature on their website is that the festival is producing two hours of live video programming every day of the event and the programs are in English. If you miss the live broadcasts, the programs are also archived here. I watched a portion of the Day 2 (Morning) program and there’s a roundtable discussion with an Iranian animation director and a book author. The majority of their talk is focused around, what else, but Flash animation and its impact on the industry. Also cool to see was an interview with an independent Iranian filmmaker about his CG short in competition, A la Mode (the interview is about three-quarters into the program). From the constant barrage of skewed, inflammatory media coverage of Iran in the Western media, one would never even know that artistic activities like animation happen in Iran, much less that the country has a thriving and fast developing animation industry. This website provides a rare look into their industry and shows that no matter what part of the world you live in, sooner or later you’re going to be using Flash and Maya.
There’s an interview with Nickelodeon development exec Peter Gal in the new issue of Animation Magazine and I’d been debating about whether I should make a post about it here on Cartoon Brew. Well, John Kricfalusi saved me the trouble by doing a post about the Gal interview tonight. Unlike John, I don’t have any personal history with Gal. I also have nothing against him, but I was still quite annoyed by the piece. The classic line in the interview: When Gal is asked about the “Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching,” he offers this golden nugget, “Listen to my comments and feedback and really think about them.” I’m not sure if that’s one of the do’s or don’ts.
Man, I can’t wait for this one! Ammo Books is getting ready to release what could become one of the must-have books of recent times: a humongous monograph on mid-century illustration legend Charley Harper. The project was initiated by fashion designer Todd Oldham who discovered Harper’s work in 2001 and has been collaborating with Harper since then to put together this book. What’s particularly exciting is that it looks like Ammo and Oldham are doing this right: the format is huge (17×12 inches) and if the cover is any indication, it’s going to be packed with visual goodness. As far as I know, Harper never worked in animation, but his work has inspired countless animation artists from 1950s-era designer Cliff Roberts to Samurai Jack background painter Scott Wills. Animator Nate Pacheco was even trying to translate Harper’s designer into Flash animation last year.
The 420-page hardcover book is scheduled for release in June, and retails for a steep $200 but is only $126 at Amazon. There are also four limited edition versions of the book (each $400) which come with a silkscreen print.
Charley Harper is an American original. At 84, Charley continues to make art in his studio in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is beloved for his delightful, graphic and often humorous illustrations of nature, animals, insects and people alike. Charley likes to say, that when he paints a bird, he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t count all the feathers in the wings Ã¢â‚¬“ he just counts the wings. Minimal realism, he calls it, and his unique and precise style continues to resonate and inspire his admirers.
Charley Harper – An Illustrated Life, showcases his illustrations that appeared from 1950-1975 in the Ford Times magazines, as well as in books such as the beloved Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Giant Golden Book of BiologyÃ¢â‚¬? in 1961, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Betty CrockerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Dinner for TwoÃ¢â‚¬? in 1961, and Ã¢â‚¬Å“ The Animal KingdomÃ¢â‚¬? in 1968, among many others. His well loved book Ã¢â‚¬Å“Birds and WordsÃ¢â‚¬?, first published in 1974, is considered a classic.
Unlike many art shows that take place nowadays, there wasn’t a specific theme or high-concept driving this show. It was simply an opportunity for three artists who respect and admire each other’s work to exhibit together. The results are unpretentious and lovely. Uesugi, Casarosa and del Carmen each have their own distinct stylistic approaches, but their work also shares a lot in common, from their fearless use of digital tools over traditional media to the contemplative serenity that surfaces in all their art.
Another trait shared by the three is the brilliant simplicity and directness of their work. One of my favorite pieces in the book is del Carmen’s “Nina Yellow on Blue,” a gouache that appears modest in execution yet offers so much in terms of composition, color and design. There are similar pieces throughout the book by all three participants; pieces displaying an effortless confidence that belies the years of hard work and artistic practice required to achieve such results.
Three Trees Make a Forest is available on Amazon for $16.50. Also, the fine folks at Gingko Press have given us two copies of the book to give away to readers. We’ll post a trivia question this Monday at 1pm (Pacific time); check back then for your chance to win a copy.
I’m often critical of the contemporary animation industry, but my criticisms are nothing compared to this new blog called Anibation Fantasy [site was taken down on 2/27/07]. The author of the blog has decided to remain anonymous, though he says he’s an Annie Award-winning artist who’s been in the industry for over twenty-five years. The writing on the blog certainly sounds like that of a grizzled industry veteran who’s seen it all. It’s hard to go wrong with a blog that has the tagline “I work in animation. I am in hell.” and offers post titles like “WHY THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY IS DOOMED,” “THE ANNIE AWARDS ARE A JOKE,” “HORRIBLE CARTOONS THAT EVERYBODY LOVES,” and “ANGRY WOMEN ARE RUINING ANIMATION.”
Here’s Mickey Mouse as you’ve never seen him before. The 1955 Disney-produced Nash car commercial posted below is as modern as the mouse ever looked. The redesign came courtesy of Tom Oreb, whose original Mickey model sheet is above. Victor Haboush, who did background design on the commercial, told me what happened after the commercial aired:
There was a little kid that used to write Walt telling him to stay away from modern art because it’s Communisitc. So when the commercial came on, he got a letter from this kid, a little malcontent sitting somewhere, and he wrote, “I’m disappointed Walt. I never though you’d succumb. What happened to you?” and Walt went crazy. He stormed down there and outlawed us against using any of the Disney characters in the commercials. I remember at the time everbody was incensed that we couldn’t use them, and it basically spelled the end of the unit. [Companies] were coming for the celebrity; to be able to use Disney characters in their commercials.
I was bummed when animation artist Chris Ishii passed away in 2001 because I’d had his phone number on my desktop for quite a while and had been meaning to call him for an interview. Ishii was born in Fresno, California in 1919 and had attended Chouinard Art Institute before being hired at Disney in 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was among the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to internment camps. (Scooby-Doo designer Iwao Takamoto, who recently passed away, was also among those interned. He described his experiences in this interview I did with him.) Ishii was sent to the Granada internment camp in Amache, Colorado.
After nearly a year of being in the camp, Ishii was accepted into the US Army in December 1942 (photo of his enlistment here). His IMDB bio says that he “served in the Military Intelligence Service as an illustrator for the Office of War Information, assigned to the India/China/Burma theater of war. He met and married his wife, Ada Suffiad in Shanghai, bringing her to the U.S. with him at demobilization.” In the 1950s, Ishii moved to the East Coast and worked at a number of NY commercial studios including Tempo and Shamus Culhane Productions. He joined UPA-NY around 1954 as a designer and layout artist. Afer Gene Deitch left the studio, Ishii (along with Jack Goodfood) assumed the role of UPA-NY’s artistic supervisor. He continued working in commercial animation during the 1960s and ’70s, partnering to form his own studio, Focus Productions, and directing the animated sequence in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, among many other projects.
The reason I bring all this up is that I recently found online some examples of Ishii’s “Lil’ Neebo” comic strip. He created the characterÃ¢â‚¬”a Japanese-American boy who is internedÃ¢â‚¬”for the Granada camp’s newspaper Granada Pioneer. The character was also drawn for the paper by other interned artists, as well as used in puppet shows at the camps. The drawing in these strips is relatively crude as it was still early in Ishii’s artistic career, but the Disney influence is certainly evident, and the unfortunate circumstances under which they were created gives them plenty of historical significance.
(Thanks to Carol Coates for finding the Ishii photo. Click on the images below for bigger versions.)
The Wizzard of Krudd is a Nick pilot created last year by Greg Miller (Whatever Happened To Robot Jones?) and Mike Stern. Nick recently passed on the idea so this weekend they posted the pilot onto YouTube. Looking at the credits, it looks like Miller and Stern had a creative hand in every aspect of the cartoon. (Dan Krall also provided some layout design.) I’m not entirely convinced of the concept, but they’ve set up an idea with plenty of visual potential, and their strong vision and execution helps Krudd stand out from the majority of pilots I’ve seen recently. Check it out below and see what you think.
It turns out that John Kricfalusi isn’t the only TV animation creator who is vocal about his dislike of contemporary animation execs. Doug TenNapel, the creator of three animated seriesÃ¢â‚¬”Earthworm Jim, Project G.E.E.K.E.R. and Catscratch, offered this amusing insight on how to become an animation executive in this interview from a couple years ago:
Executives usually get in through “development.” They can be receptionists, P.A.’s lawyers, Literature majors and they end up being good at anything but writing, directing, acting or drawing. They have excellent social skills and could use a business background.
I’m still waiting for PES to produce a piece of animation that disappoints me. Hasn’t happened yet. PES has the uncanny ability to take simple why-didn’t-I-think-of-that concepts and execute them flawlessly. His newest spot for Sneaux Shoes is called “Human Skateboard” and it’s an inspired bit of fun. Watch it here.
Canadian animation legend Ryan Larkin passed away on February 14 from brain cancer. Larkin directed and animated the 1969 Oscar-nominated short Walking, as well as Syrinx (1965), Cityscape (1966) and Street Musique (1972). The news of Larkin’s passing comes from Ottawa International Animation Festival artistic director Chris Robinson who heard the news from Chris Landreth, director of the Oscar-winning short Ryan (2004), which documented Larkin’s amazing art and troubled life. Larkin had recently been making a comeback into the animation world; his most recent piecesÃ¢â‚¬”a series of three interstitialsÃ¢â‚¬”had appeared on MTV Canada in December 2006. Ryan’s official website is RyanBango.com.
Here are a few more details about Larkin’s passing from an email written by his longtime friend, Felicity Fanjoy:
Ryan departed this life on Valentine’s Day around eleven o’clock in the evening. He died in the palliative care unit of the Hotel Dieu Hospital in St. Hyacinthe QC of lung cancer that had spread to the brain.
Before slipping into unconsciousness at the beginning of this week, his last words to Laurie Gordon (his guardian angel who, along with her family, have encouraged, supported and helped Ryan in every way possible in the last couple of years) were: ‘I’m happy. I’m okay. I like it here.’ A few days earlier he also said, ‘I just want to rest and rest and rest and rest and rest until the end of my days.’ And that is what he did.
Pixar animators Adam Burke and Andrew Gordon of the Spline Doctors blog have posted a terrific 53-minute podcast interview with Brad Bird. Bird covers a lot of his personal history (not many who can lay claim to being mentored by Milt Kahl as a teen) and offers sound advice throughout (story! story! story!). Makes for inspiring weekend listening. Here’s a few choice thoughts from Brad:
So we often hear about the comeback of 2d animation. Do you think 2D has to change in order to be successful again?
Brad Bird: Yeah, I think they have to tell good stories. I think that’s a radical change.
Can you give any advice to aspiring students and animators about staying fresh and original?
Brad Bird: Don’t just look at animation. Look at everything else. Look at your own life. Feed other things into the medium of animation. Observe plays, paintings, TV shows that you like, poems, the girl that broke your heart two years ago, the car accident you almost had. Bring it all into the medium and the medium will stay as alive as it needs to be. To animate means to give the appearance of life, and you can’t create the illusion of life if you haven’t lived one.
And when Brad talks about quality television, he cites The Wire as an example. Perfect!
Kevin Langley found this vintage clip online in which Walter Lantz describes the duties of a cartoon director at his studio. It’s nice to hear Lantz stress one of the fundamental concepts of how cartoon animation is properly produced: “Both the writer and the director have to be artists because we draw stories instead of writing them.”